Spirit Soar Behind Graham's First Hat-Trick

February 1, 2014 - Ontario Hockey League (OHL)
Belleville Bulls News Release

SAGINAW, MI -  Jesse Graham's 248th game in the OHL was the first multi-goal effort of his career, one that grounded the Bulls a night after a 7-2 win in Sarnia on Thursday. Graham's first career OHL hat-trick steered the Saginaw Spirit to a 7-0 home ice victory at the Dow Event Center on Friday. Jake Paterson made 29 saves for his second shutout of the season.

There wasn't a lot to write home about on the Belleville side of things Friday night. One of the highlights on a Bulls related note was Darren McCarty's presence in the faceoff circle for the ceremonial puck drop pre-game. 

The Spirit opened the scoring on their first powerplay of the night. Graham whistled a wrister from the high point through traffic and over the blocker of Michael Giugovaz who was back in goal for the Bulls. 

Though Giugovaz was excellent in the early going for Belleville, there was only so much he could do. Blake Clarke struck for just his second of the season and first as a member of the Spirit since coming over in a trade from the North Bay Battalion. 2014 first round draft pick Mitchell Stephens did a great job setting up the goal with 17 seconds to go in the first. Stephens found Clarke in the high slot as he beat Giugovaz low on the blocker side to give the Spirit a 2-0 lead going to the intermission.

The outstanding intermission performance at the Dow Event Center should be noted as all manner of crazy entertainment was going on at centre ice, getting the kids up on their feet.

After the fun and games at the intermission the Spirit went right back on the attack. Jesse Graham struck for his second of the night 43 seconds into the fresh frame, blowing a cannon past the blocker of Giugovaz once again, this time with a deflection likely involved enroute to the net.

Another defenceman got involved in the scoring at 7:53. Former fifth overall pick Justin Sefton found his eleventh goal of the season off the rush, hammering home a rebound off the pads of Giugovaz after he stopped the initial Nick Moutrey effort.

An opportunistic Kristoff Kontos emerged from the penalty box at 14:02 only to have a gift wrapped Belleville turnover on his stick in the neutral zone. Kontos went in alone to beat Giugovaz on the glove side to make the score 5-0 for the Spirit.

Scrambly play behind their own blueline cost the Bulls on Saginaw's sixth goal. A great passing play between Graham, Luke Cairns and Eric Locke resulted in Locke's 17th of the season at 16:40. Still battling despite the score, Giugovaz had made two or three saves during the shift to keep the puck out, but Locke would bury from the high slot.

The Bulls were outshot 18-10 in the third period as Jesse Graham's hat-trick goal made the final score 7-0 in front of 5,023. Graham joined the rush and tapped a rebound through the legs of Giugovaz at 11:54 as the hats rained onto the ice.

Saginaw took the shooting department 47-29 as the Bulls see their record fall to 14-31-2-2 on the season. The Mississauga Steelheads took a 2-1 win over Niagara on Friday, meaning the Bulls are eight points out of the eighth and final playoff spot with 19 games left on the schedule.

"There needed to be a higher sense of urgency in our zone. Saginaw is a very opportunistic, fast, skilled team that generates their own scoring chances and causes you to turn over the puck," said Bulls Assistant Coach Jake Grimes. "The first guy back to the puck needs to have urgency and do things quickly. On the rare times that happened tonight, our wingers didn't get there quickly. We had a hard time getting those two key elements to happen at once. I thought our goaltender played well for us and they still managed to get seven, so it was a tough night for everyone."

The Bulls were without Adam Laishram (upper body) and scratched Brody Morris, Mark Raycroft and Jake Bricknell. Saginaw was missing injured centreman Justin Kea (hand) and blueliner Daniel De Sousa (sick).

The weekend wraps up on Saturday night in Plymouth against a Whalers club that fell 3-2 to the Kingston Frontenacs on Friday. Game time at the Compuware Arena is 7:05pm. Play-by-play voice Jack Miller will have pre-game coverage beginning at 6:50pm on AM 800 CJBQ. Fans can also follow the Bulls Twitter feed (@OHLBulls) for full game details!

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